A.J. Edwards scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the second half to propel Amistad past Shelton High in the quarterfinals of the Division III state tournament at Wilbur Cross on Monday night.
“Coach gave us a game plan… We executed the game plan,” Edwards said. “Play defense, lock in and get the job done.”
Ninth-seeded Amistad, the last New Haven school remaining in the boys’ basketball state tournament, will face No. 5 seed Torrington on Wednesday at a to be determined site.
While Edwards was once again his reliable self in scoring the basketball, the Wolves (17-6) got 18 points from Cyp Jospeh and eight apiece from Eli Blackwell and Jaden Ratliff.
No. 16 seed Shelton never trailed in the first half, racing out to an early 9-2 lead.
Peri Basimakopolous sank a 3-pointer from the top of the arc, with Brian Berritto (team-high 20 points) doling out the assist, to provide the exclamation point on the opening salvo.
Amistad stayed within striking distance by relentlessly attacking the basket. With no players over 6-foot-1 on their roster, the Wolves relied on their quickness against a Gael squad that featured all five starters standing at least 6-foot-1.
After Brian Belade’s spinning runner increased Shelton’s margin to 25-15, Amistad responded with consecutive baskets from Edwards and Joseph.
Center Melvin Kolenovic, who notched eight points in the first half for the Gaels, tossed in a layup with 1:26 left in the second quarter to up Shelton’s advantage to 30-23.
Isaiah Joyner then converted a put-back bucket for Amistad, before Berritto was fouled with one tick left on the clock. The senior drilled both ends of the one-and-one to give the Gaels a 32-25 halftime edge.
“We did not execute any of the game plan in the first half,” Amistad coach Ryan Ott said. “We were playing too fast in some ways and too slow in other ways. I said at the half, the good news is we’re only down seven and there is some really simple stuff for us to do to fix this.”
The Wolves took control of the game in the third quarter, holding Shelton to just a pair of field goals. Their suffocating defense took the Gaels out of rhythm and allowed Amistad to play the game at its speed.
“That was the best man-to-man defense we saw all year,” Shelton head coach Brian Gardiner said. “They played full court man and they didn’t deviate.”
Edwards was the driving force on the other end for Amistad, rattling off four straight points before setting up Joyner for a layup that gave the Wolves their first lead of the game, 37-36 with 1:57 left in the third.
“A.J. was first-team All-State last year, he’s absolutely an excellent player,” Amistad head coach Ryan Ott said. “But the key this year is the balance. In year’s past, we didn’t have as much balance.”
Belade converted a missed shot to give Shelton its final lead on the ensuing possession, but Edwards beat the buzzer with whirling drive to put Amistad up 39-38 after three.
In the fourth quarter, Amistad kept Shelton at bay by hitting 16-of-22 from the foul line over the final 2:37.
“Clutch,” Ott said of his team’s performance down the stretch. “They were able to put the first half behind them,” Ott said. “That was the difference in the game.”
Shelton, which advanced to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1990, finishes its season 13-11 overall.